Fun, Food, Phones & Family
By: Mike Richardson
To start, I want to explicitly state that I fully realize this blog entry will be quite a bit different than the beautifully eloquent prose that has already been posted on Soy Sauce to date. Simply said, I have no chance of competing with the insightfully entertaining Top Ten lists or the gorgeous pictures of Missy and D posing against a colorful palette of architecturally stunning buildings or reading interesting details about them frolicking in faraway places with nature’s most interesting creatures.
No … this guest blog entry will do none of those things.
However, what this will do is provide you with a thematic, ground-level glimpse into what I remember the most from finding our way through Spain & Portugal for 17 glorious days.
Let’s start with FOOD –
One of the most important aspects of my simple life is eating good food. Certainly that comes from growing up in my extended Italian family as most everyone can “burn”, as they say, so I know really good food when I taste it.
In Spain, things are very different than what I am used to. Spaniards enthusiastically
embrace the age old adage of eating breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper. They have a long-standing tradition of eating late (think of breakfast at 10am and dinner at 10pm) and consuming 5 meals a day with a lovely mid-afternoon siesta.
Their Mediterranean cuisine is highlighted by these lovely creations called tapas which is our version of snacks or shared appetizers. And these things are not the greasy buffalo wings, fried mozzarella sticks or rubbery calamari we experience back in the States. These things are absolutely sensational. Without hesitation, I can say I experienced THE best tacos, salted cod, sea bass, acorn-fed ham and barbequed chicken in my life in Spain.
We went on two food-related walking tours appropriately called “Devour” that combined local food and history. One in Barcelona and the other in Granada. Take this to the bank – if you are ever in this part of the world, go on a Devour tour. You will not regret it.
Almost final note – I fell in love with this simple finger sandwich called a Bocadillo. It is made with Spanish bread and cut lengthwise. They are filled with just about everything from pork to steak to ham to seafood and typically have a spicy tomato spread on top. Light, tasty and cheap. Think $3! You can find these things everywhere on the streets. Spectacular!
Final note – I hardly saw any heavy Spaniards even though food & alcohol is such an integral part of their day to day existence. I guess I did something wrong along the way in the “moderation department” because I gained at least 10 pounds (translate that to actually 12 to 15 pounds) over there and it could have been much worse if I didn’t get on a plane and come home! Thank goodness for my North Face sweatpants.
Next Theme – A highly-connected way of life
Fair warning – this is a long overdue, therapeutic social cleansing of sorts for me and will most certainly expose me, for once and all, as the old school, tech-averse, highly stubborn, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal that I really am.
Keep in mind that before we boarded the long British Airways flight to Barcelona to meet Missy & D, I thought this trip was going to be mostly about experiencing new cultures and helping me along my continuous life journey to see the world in an increasingly larger spectrum of vivid colors.
That it was and then some.
But what I didn’t expect on this trip was what some close to me would say to be my long overdue awakening to some actual advantages of today’s online, connected world. To fully appreciate that statement, you must know that the full extent of my history with these technologies was to use my very expensive, highly sophisticated iPhone to tackle the occasional text, read useless junk email, consume updates about Steph Curry and my beloved Warriors, snap a random picture, make the extremely rare phone call, or read about the new hit reality show that is consuming every moment of every single news media outlet known to mankind. You should also know that I have zero desire to publish anything about my private life on the Internet and have an unwavering fundamental belief that the most effective form of communications is, and always will be, the centuries-old art form called face-to-face verbal communications.
My daughters and I have debated the pro’s and con’s of this generationally divisive topic over more than one dinner over the last few years and I must admit until this trip, I didn’t fully appreciate nor listen with an open mind to the arguments they spoke so passionately about. Trust me, they are both nodding their heads in violent agreement as they read this. But I’m also a man who will openly admit, in the presence of compelling evidence, that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.
With that confessional moment out of the way, it was amazing traveling with Rachel, Melissa & Daniel in a foreign country and getting immersed into the surprisingly simple & information-rich world of the highly connected way of life. Whether it was getting instantaneous feedback from friends of the girls who lived or spent time where we were to grabbing Uber for a quick ride or Airbnb for a great place to stay or mining Yelp & TripAdvisor for finding the best places to eat or things to do, not only was it simple but the results were outstanding.
But my absolute favorite of all of these cool little technology illuminations was this notion of not ever having to ask for directions from strangers especially when you don’t speak the local language.
Just summon up Google, punch in your destination and follow the little arrow on the map that details every single turn to make. No more stumbling through mispronunciations or trying to stifle your unnaturally feeble attempts to speak with a local accent as you simultaneously try to remember 8 turns from the local guy who speaks at 100mph in broken English at best.
Now that said, this direction stuff isn’t perfect.
The cities we visited in Spain & Portugal make San Francisco look flat. Epic hills and never-ending stair climbs with a mind-blowing matrix of side road alleys barely big enough for a small hybrid to pass by are everywhere.
I think a high-value app feature to add to this walking adventure technology is to be able to choose alternative paths to walk on that minimize unclimbable hills and/or reduce the likelihood of death by passing cars.
Just an idea …
Now in my defense, I knew all this stuff existed and what it was for but knowing about it and experiencing it with an open mind are totally different.
I know, I know – most of you are probably reading this on your iPhone7 dangling off a climbing wall somewhere listening to the latest Bernie Sanders podcast on the demise of democracy with your GoPro hanging off your head wondering where the next Meet Up or Yoga class is and saying to yourself, “My goodness Mike, do you still have an AOL account and print out MapQuest for directions?” Well … as many of our elected politicians would say, “I need immunity before I answer those questions …”
Quick hitter themes –
Siestas: These are a very big part of life in Spain & Portugal. Businesses literally shut down to accommodate this traditional, mid-day recharging of the battery. I absolutely LOVE this custom and of course, out of respect for the locals, I indulged every single day. As did Daniel. And others in our traveling party who shall remain nameless …
Beer: I learned a few words in Spanish from Daniel while I was visiting just in case I got separated from the crowd. One of my favorites was “Dos cervezas, por favor”. Said that many, many, many times. Does that make me bilingual now?
Antoni Gaudi: Ok let’s preface this by saying that in my opinion, the term “brilliance” is so over-used and diluted nowadays that it has sadly lost its true meaning. It is synonymous with the word “genius” and is defined in its simplest form as “exceptional talent or intelligence”. That said, this gentleman’s vision was absolutely brilliant. He was a Spanish architect best known as the leading practitioner of Catalan Modernism. It is impossible for me to articulate his gift in words but I will tell you this – when I walked into his magnum opus called the Sagrada Familia, I literally got the chills running up my arms time and time again as I wandered through the magnificence. It was awe-inspiring. If you are ever in Barcelona, go see everything he touched. You will never regret it and it will stay with you throughout the course of your life. It is that good.
Beaches of Algarve: I’m a total beach guy. Grew up in Southern California smelling the ocean air, bobbing about in the salt water catching an occasional wave, and ultimately respecting the power & beauty of Mother Nature. The beaches in Portugal were unspoiled & gorgeous. Redefined what a walk on the beach should really be like. Not something just to do and check off your list. It is something to experience and absorb.
Flamenco dancing: It is safe to say that my interest in dancing of any type is almost non-existent. But as they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” so off we went to be pleasantly surprised by 60 minutes of heart pounding, foot stomping sensuality that you couldn’t take your eyes off of. Between the unbelievably skilled Spanish guitarist whose fingers were a constant blur to the exotic gypsy dancers who rhythmically pounded their feet on to the hardwood floor, this was a very cool experience and something you should see at least once in a lifetime.
Language barriers: This was the very first time in my life when I traveled with a person like Daniel who was fluent in all of the languages of the places we visited. We were so very fortunate to have him with us on this trip for many reasons, the least of which is he is fluent in Portuguese & Spanish. It made everything so much easier from riding in cabs to getting around to ordering meals to dealing with problems.
Final theme: FAMILY
I couldn’t write a guest blog about my 17 days in Spain & Portugal without talking about THE most important part of what makes these trips so special to me; my family.
Traveling together is a time when we all seem to find a way to be the very best versions of ourselves as the stresses and to-do’s of day-to-day life are left behind and we are reminded once again about why we so thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.
On this trip, Jerine and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary, Rachel turned 31, and Melissa turned 29. It was the perfect venue for those important moments in time and surely etched these particular milestones in our memories for all of time.
In closing, a very special thanks go out to Daniel & Melissa for inviting us to join them on this small piece of their great big worldwide adventure. In my humble estimation, they are really thriving, happy and growing, as individuals and collectively as a couple.
Our next adventure is to meet together again in July to wrap up the trip. One more guest blog could be on the way!